Sunday 28 February 2010

Facing Up to the Falklands

In today's Observer Nick Cohen offers a lucid and dignified confession (here) that most of the British Left, himself included, were wrong in 1982 to oppose Thatcher's military expedition to liberate the Falkland Islands from Argentine invasion. He goes on to discuss the US neocons' support for Argentina in that conflict, and explains clearly how the Left bamboozled itself with an anti-imperialist rhetoric that had more to do with visceral hatred of Thatcher than with common sense (what was the Argentine junta doing if not imperialism?) The Left has never recovered from the political damage it suffered then.

The main point of his article is that the current spat over Falklands oil is unlikely to lead to war, but that if it does the Left should support Britain, and that he believes that this time the Obama administration would too. I applaud this display of realism but must confess to one nagging suspicion. His entirely-correct line of reasoning vis a vis the Falklands campaign could by extension be brought to bear to justify support for the Iraq War, which Cohen has never renounced. It's at this point one needs to bring up the vital distinction between idealism and pragmatism. The same moral argument does indeed apply to removing Saddam Hussein as did to removing Galtieri's troops from the Falklands. However the pragmatic realities on the ground were entirely different, namely:

1) The level of military force involved was orders of magnitude less: Britain could and did achieve a rapid victory on its own using a small taskforce (which is not to diminish the courage and effort of those who had to fight there). 

2) The territory was tiny, homogeneously British, there were no adversary national groups present who needed to be kept apart, and no new nation needed to be constructed after victory.

3)  They didn't completely demolish the infrastructure of the Falklands during the fighting because there barely was any in that thinly-populated, bleak moorland sheep-rearing community. 

4) It wasn't necessary to lie to Parliament or to the British public to justify launching the Falklands campaign because they both supported it already.

In fact this comparison might make an excellent textbook example of the limits of idealism in real politics.


  1. Looking for:

    PC PRO: Dick Pountain (August 2008). "The sometimes brave, sometimes brutal world of Web 2.0 self-censorship". PC Pro (166): 11.

    Previously at:

    But now unable to find...I LOVED that article. Please help sir.

  2. Found it, the address was formerly:

    and has been changed to:

    really bad form

  3. They've redesigned the PC Pro site and altered the way you navigate to Idealog: you have to search for it now. I have complained.

  4. I complained to the editor a while back and got a polite response but no real joy. A search of the PC pro site with your name just now threw up 3 Idealog columns.

    I don't like the new site design anyway, this just adds salt to the wound.


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